Only 18 Percent See Stimulus Helping Them Personally

Bad news for Obama as his health care bill continues to falter: 60 percent of Americans don't think that the $787 billion 2009 stimulus passed in January is doing anything to help the economy. Only 18 percent say it's helped them personally. Are Americans responding rationally, or is this just crazy-talk?

It's one thing to say that the stimulus is being spent too slowly, but as Matt Yglesias points out the stimulus bill is helping millions of Americans personally. More than 36 percent of the bill is a payroll tax credit worth $400 for individual workers (and $800 for families) making under $75K. In other words a lot more than 18 percent of the public are being helped personally, even if they aren't seeing the money mailed to them in a golden envelope saying "From Your Friend, the President: Enjoy!"

On a somewhat related note, a national poll asking women if they'd prefer more sex or $50 found that a majority of women said they'd take the cash. I'll withhold judgment on the calculus (More sex < $50?) but consider this: The stimulus provides payments worth 16 payments of $50 over the course of the year to couples and families, more than one payment a month.

Somewhere between these two national polls, there's a lesson about how Americans think about cash. Maybe the lesson is, as Yglesias muses, damning to behavioral economists who thought Americans spying their checking accounts would be happy to see slightly more money than they expected every time. Maybe the lesson is all about immediacy: If you tell Americans they're getting a couple hundred dollars over the course of the next year, they consider it drowned by the mortgage payments and other expenditures they'll incur over that time. But a special one-time payment (think Cash for Clunkers) simply demands to be put to use. Or maybe that money/sex calculus is poisoned by the fact that Americans simply don't find each other attractive anymore because we're all growing pot bellies...

I don't know. But this stimulus poll is surprising, and it must be dispiriting for Obama, especially as he's trying to massage the country into passing another act worth a trillion dollars.